Monday, September 14, 2015

RETURN TO RUSSIA - WITH FLAG UNFURLED! 1A

CH1   Part two-

Petrograd is a city of striking contrasts. It's the political, economic and cultural capital modeling itself along Parisian lines. It rivals our own Swedish capital's beauty with many well-heeled sophisticates and bon vivants labeling both Stockholm and Petrograd ‘the Venice of the north'. A major and noteworthy difference is that Petrograd, in less than twelve months has become the symbol of Tsarist excess power and popular revolution.

Along the avenues and canals of the city center stand palaces and grand manor houses. But less than a mile away, across the Neva River is a city in contrast. Among the bleak tenements and teeming factories live thousands of people in appalling ignorance and squalor, the focus in large part of our Salvation Army mission.

One in four babies born in the capital dies before the age of one. And for those that live, it's in the shadowy threat of the killers tuberculosis, pneumonia, epidemics of typhoid, spotted fever and smallpox. This region of sickness and death was to be our mission field where the death rate is double that of the capital's wealthier districts. But our concern went far beyond the physical death to something with eternal consequences. Our focus was the death of the soul and today our assigned chore, one that we both felt strongly drawn to, was the selling of the War Cry. It's an essential income source but more importantly, it's our most important evangelistic tool. It offers us the opportunity to engage the Russians in conversation and to invite them to the corps' worship services.

During this early period of service in Russia, we had a tacit freedom to conduct our religious services in city squares, on street corners and in fact, wherever we wanted. And, we took advantage of each opportunity. Each street meeting was conducted with some trepidation.

On the basis of incomplete data we had learned that the total Orthodox church execution tally included; one Metropolitan (Archbishop) 18 bishops, 122 priests, 154 deacons, 94 monks, and nuns. More than a hundred churches and monasteries had been closed, and the interiors desecrated. And on the declaration of the ‘Red Terror' campaign on the 5th of September, just three days ago, the lynching's and mass executions in the Peter and Paul Fortress were at their peak!

Acts 5:40-42
‘His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.'

We'd taken our place on a familiar street corner that often brought congregants numbering in the hundreds. With Bibles and song-books in hand, I led our 18 Cadets in prayer asking that our open-air meeting be blessed and the message and testimonies well received. A crowd soon formed and pushed their way in and joined our circle.

A minute later their approach was signaled by the recognizable sound of galloping horses. The Red Guard came flailing on horseback, rifles and reins in hand racing directly into the crowd. Suddenly we were surrounded by a large number of mounted Red Army guards. A handful dismounted with rifles raised, each with a gleaming bayonet fixed to the end of the barrel. They ordered us to halt our activities immediately; "Put away all your Bible, newspapers, and song-books. You're all under arrest!" Recognizing that it might be problematic to haul us all to the Peter and Paul Fortress another command followed; "One of you must return with us to the Commissar!" Brother (Cadet) Seligman immediately stepped forward – "a brave and wonderful man," said someone in the crowd.

A passing horse-drawn carriage was commandeered and the Red Guard, with Seligman securely bound, set off for the Peter and Paul Fortress stockade. We feared for the worst! He would certainly not be the first Salvationist martyr and by what we were witnessing now he'd be the next I feared.

One shocking thought immediately crossed my mind; how will Mrs. Cadet Seligman take the news when I break it to her?

I was preparing what I might say in my mind as I approached the gates to the Salvation Army gated compound when I heard the Cadets' voices cry loudly "Seligman's been arrested! Seligman's been taken captive…"

And then the wee wife comes out and approaches me. How will she take the crushing news? I sense she is about to faint in a heap crying out, "What will happen to me and my little ones? Maybe I'm already a widow and the children without a father"?

No one could have prepared me for what came next.

Mrs. Cadet Seligman shouted as loud as possible, with her arms raised in praise toward the heavens, "Slava Boga, Slava Boga! - Praise be to God – Praise be to God – ‘Thank you, God! Thank you, God, for making me worthy to suffer for Jesus' sake!"
Here then, two examples lived out for all to witness by the Seligmans. It represented the Russian Salvationists' courage and willingness to serve, indeed the willingness to suffer- so readily offered in serving these poor fellow Russians.

‘Lord,' I prayed, ‘make me worthy too!'

How did it go with Seligman?  We sought throughout the night to learn his fate – compelling, compassionate, heart-wrenching prayers were lifted.  – We felt it would at best a very brief legal process, and there was no time to spare because most of the executions came at night. The mass repressions were conducted without judicial process by the secret police, the Cheka.
Shots rang out sporadically and could be heard clearly from our vantage point near the Neva River. 

Cadets took turns visiting the Fortress along with hundreds of others crowding outside the fortress' massive gates. They sought to learn the news, even of only rumors, naming the uniformed Salvationist and reporting back to us waiting word in the training college compound.

But then we heard it; between five and six a.m. (as we prayed) a pounding at the front portal of the Training College compound… The watchman said, ‘Stand back! Stand back, who goes there?' ‘Seligman,' came the response, and rushing into the great hall he tells us the story. "Immediately on arrival at the Red Guards' Commissar's office the questioning began, and they asked me what kind of meetings were we conducting and "what is your personal relationship with God?"

They determined that Seligman would be executed by a firing squad. He was tied up and placed near a tree. But before any shots were fired he yelled: ‘Listen to me before you shoot, I am not afraid to die! And as he spoke he tore open his shirt and pointed at his heart and said: ‘I am saved, and in few moments I will be in heaven. But before that let me tell you something about my life. I was an active party member, but then my life was turned around when I accepted salvation, and now my only motive is to help others find salvation.'

This unusual testimony intrigued them. The Commanding officer said: ‘Take him away from the wall, we will postpone his execution …' the execution was postponed, and then they spoke among themselves and decided to halt everything until the next day.

And now Seligman, clearly fatigued said: ‘I wish to sleep and at 12 noon today I am to return to the Commissars compound so that the sentence be carried out.'

At 11.00 AM the assembled Salvationists, officers, cadets and employees formed a circle around the Seligman family and prayed with them before bidding farewell to Seligman.  His wife walked with him, hand in hand leaving the compound as they slowly but resolutely made their way to the Commissar's barracks.

As the Admiralty Tower clock struck 12 noon, he entered with the words" ‘I am here, as commanded … I am Seligman.' However, the Commissar in charge of the case was busy handling another matter in a private office and answered through the partly closed door: ‘I don't have time today for you today, return tomorrow at the same time!'

The following day Seligman arrived as ordered, again promptly at 12 noon. The results were the same as the day before and Seligman was told to take a seat with the many others in a barricaded area in the large reception area.

After a nervous wait of several hours a Red Guard clerk approached Seligman with the words; You're a very fortunate man Seligman. "Your file, and with it, the contents including the criminal charges lodged against you, have been lost. You are free to go!? He was ordered back to the Training College and told not to come back.


It had been so very close, only seconds from his death – Seligman rejoined his family and resumed his life as a Salvation Army Cadet …


Otto Ljungholm 1918

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sven, this narrative promises to be a page-turner filled with significant insights into SA 'real life' history, KGB, cliff and dagger encounters and Russian history and culture tossed into the mix. All the makings of a documentary-

Publisher and release date?

SA retired - USA West

Anonymous said...

"There is a place for inspirational and even idealized missionary stories in stirring up passion for God’s glory. But there are dangers in glamorizing missionary heroes, particularly an overweening confidence in what missionary work can accomplish."

I find no glamorizing missionary heroes in your book except perhaps in the incredible faith exhibited or is it naivety?

Retired missionary. Canada